Many colleges across the country and around the world employ students as part of their custodial staff. Most of these students are paid a decent wage, and they're able to save a little money while paying for school. The system works out for students who need extra income, but is it safe? Are student workers more likely to have slip and fall accidents than other trained custodial staff? First, take a look at the typical responsibilities of a student janitor, then read on for information about how one university is using slip-resistant shoes to keep its student workers safe.
The job description
There's nothing new about students working as custodial staff. The 1892 report of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin stated that building maintenance and cleanliness were falling below the usual standards. The suggestion put forth in the report called for student workers to take over many of the institution's janitorial responsibilities. Nowadays, the position is commonplace.
"Emptying trash cans is the least of a janitor's responsibilities."
For example, Berea College employs students to work a minimum of 15 hours per week. Janitorial responsibilities at that school include testing safety equipment according to OSHA standards, maintaining the stock of supplies and conducting regular inspections. At Eastern Illinois University, student janitors must undergo training for handling the risk of bloodborne pathogens. In other words, student janitors have many more responsibilities than emptying trash cans and mopping floors. It isn't a mindless job by any means and therefore employers should think seriously about the training they provide to student workers.
Usually, student janitors will qualify for some kind of injury insurance and workers compensation – though the specifics will of course depend on the institution. Redlands University, for instance, provides compensation to student custodial staff for on-the-job injuries. Other forms of health insurance are not provided.
Around the world
In Japan, student janitors are common. In fact, the practice extends beyond colleges and universities all the way down to elementary students. NPR reported that school children in Japan are often assigned cleaning tasks around the classroom. The idea is that cleaning can be a teaching opportunity – a way to learn how to be a productive member of society. A few institutions in America are adopting this ideology, though it is by no means widespread.
Chicago Public Schools, for instance, has been having some major troubles with their janitorial contracts. According to the Chicago Sun Times, CPS spent $340 million on janitorial contracts during the 2014 school year. Despite that costly effort to keep 522 Chicago area schools clean, most of the schools reported that their buildings were actually dirtier after hiring the outside cleaning companies. Clearly, custodial services are not as cut and dry as they might appear to an outsider.
Are student workers safe?
There's no hard data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that specifically concern work study programs, but we can extrapolate a few conclusions from the general data. According to the BLS, there are about 2,324,000 janitors in America. The Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System reported 32,653 injuries in 2013 due to manual cleaning equipment and another 188,051 injuries caused by lawn grooming and snow removal equipment.
Because student workers are less experienced and not as well trained as their counterparts – not to mention the fact of their academic responsibilities, they could have a greater chance of receiving an injury on the job. That's where slip-resistant shoes come in. At the University of California Riverside, the frequency of slip and fall injuries was reduced by 5 times the previous rate after the school implemented the Shoes For Crews program. The university now provides kitchen and custodial workers with SFC's slip-resistant shoes every six months – even to student workers.
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